On the Steelers: Hindsight hurts like an ankle sprain

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Did the Steelers make a mistake playing Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey last Sunday in Cleveland?

In retrospect, they did. Turns out, that game meant nothing. Had they lost, they would still be the No. 5 seed. They won, 13-9, with Cleveland having a chance to win the game near the end. The Steelers offense behind Roethlisberger and with Pouncey was ineffective.

Surely Charlie Batch could have guided them to 13 points. They played Pouncey, for one reason: Doug Legursky was hurt and Trai Essex would have had to play center.

They also were clinging to the notion that they still had a reasonable chance at the No. 2 seed had the Bengals beaten the Ravens. That didn't happen and both Pouncey and Roethlisberger suffered setbacks.

They may win in Denver, but if Roethlisberger and Pouncey aren't healthy for the next game, the decision to play both rather than give their serious injuries time to heal may be fatal to their continuation in the postseason.

Everything happens for a reason

Remember when few could believe the Steelers could only get a fifth-round draft choice for Santonio Holmes when they traded him to the New York Jets during the 2010 draft? Now you know why. You also know why the Steelers wanted to get rid of him and why the New York Jets may never get it.

Think Jerricho Cotchery isn't thrilled he begged off the Jets' roster so he could seek a better job elsewhere? Holmes is a punk. He helped the Steelers win a Super Bowl and will forever be remembered for it. What the Steelers did was squeeze as much out of him as they possibly could before he became one huge distraction and trouble maker.

If you haven't seen or read about Holmes recent performance, check it out. It's everywhere. Jets teammates say he quit on the team, he was pulled from Sunday's loss in Miami, he sulked on the bench. A favorite part of this story is twofold: Rex Ryan made Holmes a captain this season and that the Jets are stuck with him for 2012 because they guaranteed him $8 million for next season.

Kevin Colbert and the Steelers were ripped by many for "giving away" Holmes, the former Super Bowl MVP, for a fifth-round draft pick. The common complaint was that they should have gotten more. Their best offer came from the Jets. Do you think the Jets wouldn't "give" Holmes away right now if someone offered them a fifth-round draft pick? They'd trade him even up for Jerricho Cotchery. He's a team-killer, a cancer in the locker room and it finally came out for all to see.

And what did the Steelers get for that fifth-round draft pick in 2010? They traded it to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for cornerback Bryant McFadden and the Cardinals tossed in a sixth-round draft choice.

The Steelers used that sixth-rounder to draft Antonio Brown, a wide receiver from Central Michigan University. How did that work out for them?

Warning: Do not overlook Broncos or Tebow

A radio host on the New England Patriots network late Thursday afternoon could not contain his disdain for how Tim Tebow plays quarterback. He ridiculed him, saying he "stinks" and that he's the worst quarterback he's seen in the NFL in 25 years.

OK, everyone can agree that Tebow is not the next John Elway. But how did they win six in a row and seven of his first eight games as their starter, beginning Oct. 23 in Miami? How did they beat the Jets? The Chargers? The Raiders by scoring 38 points, the Vikings by scoring 35?

Tebow's performance over the past three games -- all losses -- has been dreadful. Maybe with all that video of him now playing in the NFL, defensive coordinators have figured him out.

The idea is to stop Tebow from running, stop the rest of the Broncos run game and make him throw.

But the Steelers' weakest part of their defense this season has come against the run while the Broncos were the most productive running team in the NFL, including Tebow's 660 yards and six touchdown runs.

So they can all laugh at those ducks he throws, but if the Steelers are ineffective in picking a few of those off or of stopping Willis McGahee and the rest of them on the ground, Tebow could have the last laugh tonight.

The emperor turns 80

Chuck Noll celebrated his 80th birthday Thursday at his winter home on the West Coast of Florida. He was 38 when he took over as coach of the Steelers in 1969, after Joe Paterno declined their offer.

I covered Noll's final seven seasons as coach of the Steelers when I took over the beat at the Post-Gazette. They often were rocky times for the franchise because the Steelers made the playoffs just once during that time (1989) and never won a division championship. During that time, there were major upheavals, from front office shakeups and owner-ordered coaching shakeups to a strike, replacement players and the death of team founder Art Rooney Sr.

Think about how long a coach would be kept around today if he made the playoffs only once in seven seasons. But then, Noll had a little history behind him, and the evidence remains in their South Side facility where four Lombardi Trophies stand tall next to the other two won over the past six seasons.

Noll has not been in the best of health, fighting severe back problems and a heart condition. They named a street after him near Heinz Field recently and a few years back the new football field at Saint Vincent College was dedicated in his honor. He was unable to make either ceremony.

For all the good material it would contain, there's never been a biography that I'm aware of written about Noll. I once asked him if he'd ever write one, and he looked at me as if I asked him if he'd like to lose his next game. "No," he answered. "Never."

Too bad. I'd like to read it.



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